Leicester retailers will be able to re-furlough staff due to local lockdown
Employers, including non-essential retailers, forced to shut their doors again in Leicester under the local lockdown will be able to re-furlough their staff if they have used the scheme before, Downing Street has said.
No 10 said on Tuesday that the scheme to prevent job losses could still be utilised by firms in the city and elsewhere that are affected by the return of strict measures to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Leicester became the first place to be placed on local lockdown with non-essential shops being told to once again close, while schools will shut to most pupils from Thursday.
The planned opening of restaurants, pubs, cafes, hairdressers and cinemas across England from Saturday will also be put on hold in the East Midlands city. The measures, announced last night by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, will be reviewed in two weeks' time.
It is feared that the order will place fresh pressure on ailing retailers just as they hoped to get a boost from renewed footfall with hospitality and hairdressers returning to the high street.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “If employers have used the furlough scheme at any point between March 1 and June 30, which of course many will have, they can re-furlough those employees from July 1.
“If someone worked in non-essential retail and they have been able to go back to work and that non-essential retail now has to close again they will still be eligible to benefit from the furlough scheme.
“It applies nationwide but obviously it’s a particular circumstance to Leicester and those surrounding conurbations at the moment.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak extended the job retention scheme until the end of October, with employers being told to contribute to the cost from August.
Some 9.3 million workers have been furloughed under the programme, claiming £25.5 billion to cover the salaries of those who cannot work, according to the latest Government figures.
Boris Johnson acknowledged in his major speech on Tuesday when he set out his recovery plan that “the furloughing cannot go on forever”.
But he warned that “jobs that many people had in January are also not coming back or at least not in that form”, adding: “And we know that that’s the biggest and most immediate economic challenge that we face.”
As well as non-essential retail closing in Leicester, it was revealed this morning that five garment manufacturers had been obliged to close due to outbreaks of COVID-19 among workforces. One factory reported 20 cases and it is feared that more factories will have to close if the spread cannot be contained.
Leicester's current infection rate, at 135 per 100,000 people, is three times higher than the national average. Hospital admissions are also higher.